Review of Little Red Riding Hood at Cranfield by Prof D. Ince.
Pantomimes have gone down the spout since I was young.
These days the typical ‘big’ pantomime contains an ex-page three girl, a local DJ and an actress from a soap such as Emmerdale or EastEnders. They bear little relationship to the pantomimes I used to attend a child.
Happily, traditional pantomimes live on in village halls and community centres around the country. No more so than at Cranfield Village Hall where ACTivate presented the pantomime Little Red Riding Hood which was written by Richard Peacock, who also played the dame. The script was full of humour and was bursting with real characters.
It had all the great panto ingredients: a large number of heroes, a villainous wolf who looked as it had just returned from a bad night in Milton Keynes; the wolf’s two villainous and utterly incompetent assistants who seemed to have come from a Laurel and Hardy tribute show; a sweet and innocent Red Riding Hood who thought that the wolf was much misunderstood; two heroes, Dandini and a forester; and a magnificent Dame whose attire was so indescribably lacking in taste that even a charity shop would have rejected it.
The plot is simple: a happy community is beset by a marauding wolf who takes a culinary liking to a sweet girl and uses an old woman with an appalling dress sense to ensnare her. The community rallies round, fixes on a plan to capture the wolf and then succeeds.
This sounds simple, but intertwined in this is a pantomime mix-up with Dandini arriving from that perennial favourite Cinderella, an X-factor competition that was used to decide the best idea for snaring the wolf, an incompetent Fairy Godmother, a bureaucratic mayor enamoured of EEC regulations and an explorer and assistant who didn’t quite seem to know where they were — I thought that I saw them heading for the M1 when we drove away from this happy evening.
There were many excellent performances that I have already mentioned including the mayor’s doddery assistant Mrs Cyclepath who was transformed into a Sharon Osborne figure for the X-factor competition.
One aspect of the evening that worried me was that my wife continually misheard the name Mrs Cyclepath as Mrs Psychopath so I was expecting some modern ending to the evening involving the forester’s axe; happily this did not happen.
It was the most amazingly inclusive panto that I have seen. Not only were there many children taking a meaningful part in the production — much to the delight of the audience — but every speaker was shadowed by an interpreter who used British Sign Language. The interpreters did this in character so that reactions were mirrored and emphasised, adding a whole new dimension to the production.
There were ample opportunities for audience participation; I even shouted out to the wolf that they they should get back to Wolverton; an audience of a wide age spread seemed to really enjoy the event.
What was particularly excellent about the whole production were the huge numbers involved — perhaps a number close to the population of Cranfield. The fact that this worked is both a testament to the skills of the director, Clare Tyers, and the robustness of the stage foundations which withstood a number of very large-scale set pieces.
I’m grumpy, old and dyspeptic but even I came away from this production with a smile on my face: every participant was obviously enjoying themselves and, equally importantly, the wolf was captured so you can walk around Cranfield in safety — until next year of course!
>> New members are always welcome at ACTivate.
Sessions are led by experienced and professional theatre-makers.
Join one of the groups:
ACT 1 Years 2-4 Thursdays 3.30pm-4.30pm
ACT 2 Years 5-8 Thursdays 4.45pm-6pm
ACT 3 Years 9-11 Tuesdays 5.30pm-7pm
ACT4 16+ Tuesdays 7pm-9pm
Sessions are held at Cranfield Village Hall and cost £45 per term.
Tel: 01234 750 819